The importance of being social in the midst of social distancing

25 May 2020

With the majority of marketers working from home as they deal with the current crisis, it is crucial that they consider their mental health and that of their teams.

There are any number of factors — screen fatigue, reduction in human contact, the difficulty of building and maintaining culture — that can adversely affect mood and mental wellbeing in a physically distant workplace.

Managers need to think completely differently about the way they, as leaders, can support wellbeing in the workplace, said Sue Jauncey, CEO and founder at Appellon.

She noted a number of issues leaders can focus on to make sure their staff feel supported.

“They should provide clarity of expectation around role requirements — this is often poorly managed; Be clear about the goals which need to be achieved; Create a workplace environment where staff work collectively to meet shared sets of goals — this triggers a sense of achievement and connectedness.

“And take the focus away from asking what an individual needs — this is often more harmful than helpful. Instead, focus on what we can do collectively to achieve shared goals — this approach improves wellbeing, whereas a focus on what an individual needs creates more stress and anxiety.”

There are a few cues to look out for if you have a workforce that is likely more stressed than feeling a sense of achievement and connectedness, Jauncey explained.

These include ongoing sick leave and repeated requests to discuss what is expected of them — staff have a tendency to blame external causes when they have not been able to perform. Also watch for detachment and lack of response — staff may be highly defensive. Extended isolation and stress can lead to helplessness and an inability to be objective.

Jauncey cautioned that leaders need to be very careful when asking managers to be responsible to look out for staff wellbeing — they are often not qualified to be able to detect or diagnose stress and anxiety-related conditions, so this could be dangerous.

“It is the manager’s role, however, to create workplace conditions that naturally support a sense of wellbeing,” she said.

Marissa Almeida, Content Solutions Manager at Storyation, said an open dialogue is key and ramping up the check-ins — maybe reaching out more often than just the weekly one-to-one.

She said the sharing of materials, such as resources like Beyond Blue or other government sites that have support references, can be a great, proactive approach.

“Monthly anonymous surveys can also be a good way to get a pulse check on how everyone is feeling.”

Almeida said any change in behaviour can be a flag. If an extrovert is suddenly quiet, or quality of work drops off, engagement changes — all of these can be a sign. Aggression or sullenness from a usually happy employee is also a big flag.

Programs

Employers should also put in place some programs to support their staff’s mental health. One of the most important factors that support mental health is accountability, Jauncey said.

“Programs that support wellbeing include those that hold us to account for the behaviours we apply to our workplace practices, the goals we have agreed to achieve, and how we can showcase our achievements.”

According to Jauncey, it is when we do not have these structures around us that we begin to disconnect, become detached, start to lose a sense of worth, and begin the slippery spiral down to a world filled with stress and anxiety.

“We teach people to depersonalise and focus on the objective. It is in this objective space we can begin to develop our sense of worth and wellbeing.”

Organisations can support staff by making sure they have good end-to-end online programs available to them.

Jauncey said, “If they supply these types of programs where needed, it will go a long way to supporting individual wellbeing and reducing the likelihood of mental health issues developing.”

There might be the need for creating new positions within a workplace to ensure mental health and morale aren’t low.

Almeida, meanwhile, said assigning a mental health manager — whose sole purpose is to maintain the culture and have an ongoing relationship with employees to promote a healthy work/life balance — could be helpful.

Workplaces could also promote the balance with one half-day a month for a mental health break.

“I currently work in a company that encourages us to take a half-day each month (not against annual leave) and do something we enjoy. It makes us feel quite valued as employees and has boosted morale,” she said.

Policies

To make sure employees’ mental health is taken care of, managers should think about creating some policies for the workplace.

According to Almeida, there should be an open-door policy to speak with managers about mental health concerns and stresses that are impacting staff, in a completely confidential atmosphere.

This could even cross departments, so they don’t feel a conflict with a direct line manager.

“Having extracurricular elements in place, like virtual quizzes, can take some of the stress out of work and make employees feel valued outside of the work environment.

“Incentives for employees to access affordable mental health services, just as companies offer gym memberships, could be valuable as well,” she added.

While there should be some policies in place to look after employees, there can be some difficulties in creating and implementing them — because everyone is different.

It is more about being responsible for the workplace environments leaders are creating. It means becoming more serious about culture, and the ability to measure behavioural outcomes against performance improvements.

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